Entertainment

Film Review: 'Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle'


In a world without such competition, “ Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle ” might have seemed like a good idea: a darker, decidedly non-Disney approach to Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories about a boy raised by wild animals deep in the Indian forest.


Serkis’ approach means that bona fide movie stars such as Christian Bale and Benedict Cumberbatch not only voiced their characters, but submitted to the whole performance capture rigmarole, whereby their every facial expression is mapped onto the heads of otherwise photorealistic animals.


Although Kipling himself clearly approved of anthropomorphizing the animals, this creepy visual interpretation couldn’t have been what he had in mind, where familiar actors’ faces have been stretched and mapped onto a variety of different species, creating a weird funhouse-mirror effect.


Kipling’s novel has been adapted often enough that audiences know the basic beats: Mowgli (played by scrawny human actor Rohan Chand) is orphaned and abandoned, raised by wolves (led here by Peter Mullan), mentored by black panther Bagheera (Christian Bale) and a bear named Baloo (Serkis awards himself the best role, playing it like some kind of half-soused Cockney war veteran), threatened by the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), and destined to choose between returning to human society or continuing to live among the animals.


The film starts dark, as primitive-looking humans run in panic from a brutal tiger attack, while Blanchett’s serpentine Kaa offers a hypnotic prologue that sounds a bit too much like the ethereal setup she delivered as Galadriel in “The Lord of the Rings.” Shere Khan pounces, presumably killing a mother and child, until Bagheera shows up to rescue the blood-spattered infant in the next scene.


Instead, Mowgli and his animal buddies are upstaged at every turn by the meticulously rendered landscapes, which mix real foliage with magic-hour set extensions for a seemingly endless succession of iconic shots — sunset-backed silhouettes, moments of waterside contemplation and countless bursting-through-the-jungle poses — in which nothing or particular narrative interest is taking place.






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